Sibley also observes that we often give reasons for our ascriptions of aesthetic terms, in terms of non-aesthetic, descriptive characteristics that do not themselves require perceptiveness or taste to apply. There are, for example, concepts for which there are no necessary conditions of application, but for which there are some number of conditions which, if they are met, would be sufficient. Surely, these characteristics, taken together, are sufficient for calling my cousin intelligent, despite the fact that not a single one of them is necessary. One could easily imagine a most intelligent person, who did none of these things.
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Artistic formalism has been taken to follow from both the immediacy and the disinterest theses Binkley , —; Carroll , 20— If you take the immediacy thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties whose grasping requires the use of reason, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the immediacy thesis implies artistic formalism. If you take the disinterest thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties capable of practical import, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the disinterest thesis implies artistic formalism.
This is not to suggest that the popularity enjoyed by artistic formalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed mainly to its inference from the immediacy or disinterest theses. The most influential advocates of formalism during this period were professional critics, and their formalism derived, at least in part, from the artistic developments with which they were concerned.
Not every influential defender of formalism has also been a professional critic. Monroe Beardsley, who arguably gave formalism its most sophisticated articulation, was not Beardsley Nor is Nick Zangwill, who recently has mounted a spirited and resourceful defense of a moderate version of formalism Zangwill From these observations he concluded that form alone neither makes an artwork nor gives it whatever value it has Danto , 94—95; Danto , 30—31; Danto , But Danto has taken the possibility of such perceptual indiscernibles to show the limitations not merely of form but also of aesthetics, and he has done so on the grounds, apparently, that the formal and the aesthetic are co-extensive.
Regarding a urinal Duchamp once exhibited and a perceptual indiscernible ordinary urinal, Danto maintains that aesthetics could not explain why one was a work of fine art and the other not, since for all practical purposes they were aesthetically indiscernible: if one was beautiful, the other one had to be beautiful, since they looked just alike.
Danto , 7 But the inference from the limits of the artistically formal to the limits of the artistically aesthetic is presumably only as strong as the inferences from the immediacy and disinterest theses to artistic formalism, and these are not beyond question. The inference from the immediacy thesis appears to go through only if you employ a notion of immediacy stronger than the one Hume, for example, takes himself to be defending when he claims in a passage quoted in section1.
It may be that artistic formalism results if you push either of the tendencies embodied in the immediacy and disinterest theses to extremes. It may be that the history of aesthetics from the 18th century to the mid-Twentieth is largely the history of pushing those two tendencies to extremes.
It does not follow that those tendencies must be so pushed. Danto is right to maintain that the eighteenth-century theorist of taste would not know how to regard it as an artwork. But this is because the eighteenth-century theorist of taste lives in the 18th century, and so would be unable to situate that work in its twentieth-century art-historical context, and not because the kind of theory he holds forbids him from situating a work in its art-historical context.
Nor does there seem to be anything in the celebrated conceptuality of Brillo Boxes, nor of any other conceptual work, that ought to give the eighteenth-century theorist pause.
Francis Hutcheson asserts that mathematical and scientific theorems are objects of taste Hutcheson , 36— Alexander Gerard asserts that scientific discoveries and philosophical theories are objects of taste Gerard , 6. Neither argues for his assertion. Both regard it as commonplace that objects of intellect may be objects of taste as readily as objects of sight and hearing may be. Why should the present-day aesthetic theorist think otherwise?
If an object is conceptual in nature, grasping its nature will require intellectual work. But—as Hume and Reid held see section 1. According to the psychological thesis, which aesthetic properties we perceive a work as having depends on which category we perceive the work as belonging to.
Hence the philosophical thesis, according to which the aesthetic properties a work actually has are those it is perceived as having when perceived as belonging to the category or categories it actually belongs to.
Since the properties of having been intended to be a painting and having been created in a society in which painting is well-established category are artistically relevant though not graspable merely by seeing or hearing the work, it seems that artistic formalism cannot be true. But if we cannot judge which aesthetic properties paintings and sonatas have without consulting the intentions and the societies of the artists who created them, what of the aesthetic properties of natural items?
With respect to them it may appear as if there is nothing to consult except the way they look and sound, so that an aesthetic formalism about nature must be true. Allen Carlson, a central figure in the burgeoning field of the aesthetics of nature, argues against this appearance. He also maintains that the philosophical thesis transfers: whales actually have the aesthetic properties we perceive them as having when we perceive them as mammals, and do not actually have any contrasting aesthetic properties we might perceive them to have when we perceive them as fish.
If we ask what determines which category or categories natural items actually belong to, the answer, according to Carlson, is their natural histories as discovered by natural science Carlson , 21— Carlson is surely right that aesthetic judgments about natural items are prone to be mistaken insofar as they result from perceptions of those items as belonging to categories to which they do not belong, and, insofar as determining which categories natural items actually belong to requires scientific investigation, this point seems sufficient to undercut the plausibility of any very strong formalism about nature see Carlson for independent objections against such formalism.
One difficulty, raised by Malcolm Budd Budd and and Robert Stecker Steckerc , is that since there are many categories in which a given natural item may correctly be perceived, it is unclear which correct category is the one in which the item is perceived as having the aesthetic properties it actually has. Perceived as belonging to the category of Shetland ponies, a large Shetland pony may be perceived as lumbering; perceived as belonging to the category of horses, the same pony may be perceived as cute and charming but certainly not lumbering.
If the Shetland pony were a work of art, we might appeal to the intentions or society of its creator to determine which correct category is the one that fixes its aesthetic character. But as natural items are not human creations they can give us no basis for deciding between equally correct but aesthetically contrasting categorizations. It was not primarily a debate over the existence of principles of beauty, a matter over which theorists of taste might disagree.
Kant denied that there are any such principles Kant , , but both Hutcheson and Hume affirmed their existence: they maintained that although judgments of beauty are judgments of taste and not of reason, taste nevertheless operates according to general principles, which might be discovered through empirical investigation Hutcheson , 28—35; Hume , — It is tempting to think of recent debate in aesthetics between particularists and generalists as a revival of the eighteenth-century debate between rationalists and theorists of taste.
But the accuracy of this thought is difficult to gauge. One reason is that it is often unclear whether particularists and generalists take themselves merely to be debating the existence of aesthetic principles or to be debating their employment in aesthetic judgment. But this requires being able to say what an aesthetic property is without reference to its being immediately graspable, something no one seems to have done.
But which class is this? The classes exemplified by beauty are presumably endless, and the difficulty is to specify the relevant class without reference to the immediate graspability of its members, and that is what no one seems to have done.
Of these, the papers by Isenberg and Sibley have arguably enjoyed the greatest influence. Isenberg concedes that we often appeal to descriptive features of works in support of our judgments of their value, and he allows that this may make it seem as if we must be appealing to principles in making those judgments. If in support of a favorable judgment of some painting a critic appeals to the wavelike contour formed by the figures clustered in its foreground, it may seem as if his judgment must involve tacit appeal to the principle that any painting having such a contour is so much the better.
But if in appealing to the descriptive features of a work we are not acknowledging tacit appeals to principles linking those features to aesthetic value, what are we doing? In this way we get others to see what we have seen, rather than getting them to infer from principle what we have so inferred.
That Sibley advances a variety of particularism in one paper and a variety of generalism in another will give the appearance of inconsistency where there is none: Sibley is a particularist of one sort, and with respect to one distinction, and a generalist of another sort with respect to another distinction.
Isenberg, as noted, is a particularist with respect to the distinction between descriptions and verdicts, i. With respect to a distinction between descriptions and a set of judgments intermediate between descriptions and verdicts, Sibley is straightforwardly particularist.
With respect to a distinction between a set of judgments intermediate between descriptions and verdicts and verdicts, Sibley is a kind of generalist and describes himself as such. We also appeal to properties that are inherently positive, such as grace, balance, dramatic intensity, or comicality.
To say that a property is inherently positive is not to say that any work having it is so much the better, but rather that its tout court attribution implies value.
So although a work may be made worse on account of its comical elements, the simple claim that a work is good because comical is intelligible in a way that the simple claims that a work is good because yellow, or because it lasts twelve minutes, or because it contains many puns, are not.
But if the simple claim that a work is good because comical is thus intelligible, comicality is a general criterion for aesthetic value, and the principle that articulates that generality is true. But none of this casts any doubt on the immediacy thesis, as Sibley himself observes: I have argued elsewhere that there are no sure-fire rules by which, referring to the neutral and non-aesthetic qualities of things, one can infer that something is balanced, tragic, comic, joyous, and so on.
One has to look and see. Here, equally, at a different level, I am saying that there are no sure-fire mechanical rules or procedures for deciding which qualities are actual defects in the work; one has to judge for oneself. Hence aesthetic judgments are immediate in something like the way that judgments of color, or of flavor, are: We see that a book is red by looking, just as we tell that the tea is sweet by tasting it.
So too, it might be said, we just see or fail to see that things are delicate, balanced, and the like. But Sibley recognizes—as his eighteenth-century forebears did and his formalist contemporaries did not—that important differences remain between the exercise of taste and the use of the five senses.
Central among these is that we offer reasons, or something like them, in support of our aesthetic judgments: by talking—in particular, by appealing to the descriptive properties on which the aesthetic properties depend—we justify aesthetic judgments by bringing others to see what we have seen Sibley , 14— It is clearer, perhaps, that he does not succeed in defining the term this way, whatever his intentions. Aesthetic concepts are not alone in being non-condition-governed, as Sibley himself recognizes in comparing them with color concepts.
But there is also no reason to think them alone in being non-condition-governed while also being reason-supportable, since moral concepts, to give one example, at least arguably also have both these features.
Isolating the aesthetic requires something more than immediacy, as Kant saw. Given the degree to which Kant and Hume continue to influence thinking about aesthetic judgment or critical judgment, more broadly , given the degree to which Sibley and Isenberg continue to abet that influence, it is not surprising that the immediacy thesis is now very widely received.
The thesis, however, has come under attack, notably by Davies and Bender See also Carroll , who follows closely after Davies , and Dorsch for further discussion. Isenberg, it will be recalled, maintains that if the critic is arguing for her verdict, her argumentation must go something as follows: Artworks having p are better for having p.
W is an artwork having p. Therefore, W is so much the better for having p. Since the critical principle expressed in premise 1 is open to counter-example, no matter what property we substitute for p, Isenberg concludes that we cannot plausibly interpret the critic as arguing for her verdict.
Rather than defend the principle expressed in premise 1, Davies and Bender both posit alternative principles, consistent with the fact that no property is good-making in all artworks, which they ascribe to the critic. Davies proposes that we interpret the critic as arguing deductively from principles relativized to artistic type, that is, from principles holding that artworks of a specific types or categories—Italian Renaissance paintings, romantic symphonies, Hollywood Westerns, etc.
Bender proposes that we interpret the critic as arguing inductively from principles expressing mere tendencies that hold between certain properties and artworks—principles, in other words, holding that artworks having p tend to be better for having it Bender , Each proposal has its own weaknesses and strengths.
Though it is clear that such relativizing reduces the relative number of counterexamples, we need good reason for thinking that it reduces that number to zero, and Davies provides no such reason. If the critic argues from the truth of a principle to the truth of a verdict—as Davies and Bender both contend—it must be possible for her to establish the truth of the principle before establishing the truth of the verdict. How might she do this? It seems unlikely that mere reflection on the nature of art, or on the natures of types of art, could yield up the relevant lists of good- and bad-making properties.
At least the literature has yet to produce a promising account as to how this might be done. Observation therefore seems the most promising answer. To say that the critic establishes the truth of critical principles on the basis of observation, however, is to say that she establishes a correlation between certain artworks she has already established to be good and certain properties she has already established those works to have.
But then any capacity to establish that works are good by inference from principles evidently depends on some capacity to establish that works are good without any such inference, and the question arises why the critic should prefer to do by inference what she can do perfectly well without. The answer cannot be that judging by inference from principle yields epistemically better results, since a principle based on observations can be no more epistemically sound than the observations on which it is based.
None of this shows that aesthetic or critical judgment could never be inferred from principles. It does however suggest that such judgment is first and foremost non-inferential, which is what the immediacy thesis holds. For Kant the pleasure involved in a judgment of taste is disinterested because such a judgment does not issue in a motive to do anything in particular.
For this reason Kant refers to the judgment of taste as contemplative rather than practical Kant , But if the judgment of taste is not practical, then the attitude we bear toward its object is presumably also not practical: when we judge an object aesthetically we are unconcerned with whether and how it may further our practical aims.
Hence it is natural to speak of our attitude toward the object as disinterested. To say, however, that the migration of disinterest from pleasures to attitudes is natural is not to say that it is inconsequential.
According to Schopenhauer, we lead our ordinary, practical lives in a kind of bondage to our own desires Schopenhauer ,
The Concept of the Aesthetic
This will make widows wince. Taste is a matter of inculcation, training, and experience. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. Purchase Subscription prices and ordering Short-term Access To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. What he means is perceptiveness or discernment.
Artistic formalism has been taken to follow from both the immediacy and the disinterest theses Binkley , —; Carroll , 20— If you take the immediacy thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties whose grasping requires the use of reason, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the immediacy thesis implies artistic formalism. If you take the disinterest thesis to imply the artistic irrelevance of all properties capable of practical import, and you include representational properties in that class, then you are apt to think that the disinterest thesis implies artistic formalism. This is not to suggest that the popularity enjoyed by artistic formalism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed mainly to its inference from the immediacy or disinterest theses. The most influential advocates of formalism during this period were professional critics, and their formalism derived, at least in part, from the artistic developments with which they were concerned.